Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Online Retail in Australia Sucks - Part 3

Despite what follows in this post, I'm actually normally a glass is half full type person but following on from our previous two posts I need to get another online retail related rant off my chest.

Online retailers need to ship their goods to customers, and that requires a good postal or delivery service. In Australia we've got a large company who have been blessed with a massive government funded infrastructure of postal stores and warehouses, they're called Australia Post and their service is terrible.

When shoes don't fit a customer, we remake them for free and the customer sends us back their ill fitting pair. Before we moved into our office we were working from home and I'd have customers send their shoes back to my home address. Now the idea behind a postal service like Australia Post is that they deliver things to the address someone writes on a package. I would have had about 30 packages addressed to my home and not a single one was actually delivered to me there. Instead I'd get one of those slips saying, 'Sorry we tried to deliver a parcel to you but you weren't home. Please visit your local Post Office to collect it.' For a while I thought it must have just been bad timing and I had ducked out whenever the post man came by, but after about 15 parcels I realised I was home when these slips were being dropped into my letter box, the post man wasn't bothering to ring my door bell to even see if I was home! One day, after being home all morning, I found a slip in my letter box and I went up to the Post Office to collect the parcel. I was told it wasn't there yet as the post man still had it in his van. So postal workers are literally driving around in a van full of parcels, dropping slips into everyone's letter box without ringing doorbells. Great service and environmentally friendly too.

After a few visits to the Post Office it became pretty clear there were a lot of other people who's door bells also weren't being rung, because there was always a long line up to collect parcels. And to top it off the Post Office clearly has no system for laying out the packages that require collecting. At times I've waited more than 5 minutes for a postal worker to sift through all the packages to find mine, with a big line up of people behind me.

After realising this was happening I was walking down the street one day and saw a post man delivering letters. I spoke to him to ask if he would mind ringing my doorbell with the packages. He was friendly and explained that Australia Post used contractors to deliver parcels separately to letters, so I should visit my local Post Office to ask them about the issue.

So, armed with another couple of 'Sorry you weren't home' postal slips I went to my local Post Office and asked them about the issue. I was told this comes up a lot and that I needed to ring Australia Post and lodge a complaint and that I couldn't do that in the store. So I went home and did just that. Fortunately Australia Post are organised enough to have a 'Press 3 for complaints' menu option on their phone system (insert irony comment here) so I pushed that, waited the obligatory 10 minutes to speak to someone and lodged my complaint. I was told that they've made a note on my address and I shouldn't have this problem anymore. I made the point that this is probably happening to all my neighbours as well and I was told they'd look into it.

And this isn't all. We use a company called EMS to ship our shoes from China. EMS contract Australia Post to carry out the local delivery in Australia. We email all our customers a photo of their shoes, a note to say we've shipped them and a guide as to when their shoes should arrive. We regularly receive emails from customers in Australia (this happens in no other country we deliver to) about a week later asking where their shoes are. When we check the tracking details online we invariably see the message, 'Carded to Post Office' and the customer hasn't actually received a card. If this happened once or twice, maybe that's not the end of the world, but it happens regularly. Clearly my local parcel post contractor sucks, but there are worse ones out there who can't even be bothered leaving cards as they casually drive around the city in their van full of parcels. This is a bad experience for our customers and no doubt will make them less likely to purchase from us in the future.

So what's our alternative? Courier companies like DHL and UPS offer shipping from China to customers all over the world, but they don't have the same massive infrastructure base in Australia that Australia Post do, so to get a reasonable price from them we need to increase our volumes. We will be switching to them as soon as is humanly possible. In the meantime, we, like many other small Australia online retailers, are stuck using Australia Post.

With their wonderful level of service Australia Post is now applying to the ACCC to increase prices for their letters. In my, perhaps naive entrepreneurial mind, I don't think a company should raise prices unless their product and service is so good that customers won't mind paying the extra money. Clearly in the mind of a monopoly, you shouldn't have to follow the same rules. Fortunately the ACCC doesn't make it so easy for Australia Post to increase their prices and their application is still under review. Maybe if Australia Post stopped acting like a monopoly, and offered a reasonable service, the ACCC would be less inclined to treat them like one.

Update: I sent this blog post to the ACCC and they included it as a submission paper regarding the Australia Post price increase. There are some pretty fired up people amongst those submissions!


  1. I'm 100% with you on this one. As you said, AusPost uses contractors and it isn't worth the contractor's time (therefore money) to wait around for the door bell to ring, so they leave a parcel - They're basically saying their time is worth more than ours.

    I work from home and this drives me insane as I'm more often than not around to pick up goods. I've even witnessed said contractor doing this to my neighbour - not only did he not ring the doorbell, he didn't even have the parcel in his hand!

    I get no where when I point this out to the staff, I've even been cheeky and requested a 50% refund as they only delivered the parcel 50% the way.

    There are other third party agencies such as Toll that don't require you to have the same volume, or you could try piggy backing from someone else's account.

  2. ahahah You can go ahead and replace the word "Australia" by "France" and you got yourself a new blog post. Same thing happening here. I work from home and always find the same slip from the post office.....your last sentence says it all MONOPOLY....no incentive to change the way they do things

  3. How about setting up a Groupon-Like UPS account ? :-)

  4. I can only full agree with you about the postal service.

    On a totally separate note, just to highlight a positive experience i had. I ordered some shoes from Eastbay in the US. It arrived within a week and a half via UPS. In addition, I got constant emails from eastbay and UPS with updates as to where the package was. I thought that was brilliant and my aussie friends had similar experiences.

    i think that's one of the biggest fears / worries when you order online, not knowing when your goods will arrive (and if they will arrive at all!), particularly if you've ordered from the site for the first time.

    maybe you could give shoppers an alternative i.e. use a postal service like Toll, etc.. if they are prepared to pay more.

  5. This is the greatest hurdle in the path of eCommerce in Australia. Unfortunately these archaic businesses just don't get it.

    You'd think they would now that are delivering fewer letters.

  6. That sucks Michael. Good on you for complaining

  7. Michael, I second your rant. That is absolute GOLD!

  8. Hey Michael. You should drop a line to the Industry/Innovation Minister - Kim Carr. You never know - sometimes they're looking for 'things to help SMEs in Australia'...

  9. I actually made a complaint to Australia Post about this exact thing. Despite the fact that I'm home, our contractor just leaves slips in the mailbox. This happens ALL the time. Finally I got so angry that I fired off a complaint to Aust. Post. They took down my mailing address - don't know what else will come of it but it better not happen any more. Total waste of time. Grrr sorry, just needed to vent. It's a shame to hear that it's happening to other people too.

  10. This seems to be standard policy for Australia post. I had the exact same experience and it stopped once I made the complaint over the phone, and just thought I had a dodgey delivery guy. I've recently moved to a totally different part of Sydney, and guess what? I've started receiving the "sorry we tried to deliver...." notes again.

  11. Your post makes my blood boil Michael. I have exactly the same experience, and it was so painful especially when most of my parcels were cartons of wine! (which is no reflection on the type of person I am :-))

  12. I also get frustrated when a valued post goes missing - happened with me and a rare second hand book I ePurchased from Amazons - it was tracked to Australia and then disappeared into the postal system here - no trace, no recourse, no refund and more importantly, no book

  13. I get "carded" by Australia Post all the time. I pay for Express Post delivery because I don't drive and am not well, so when they don't deliver my stuff I have to pay again for a taxi to take me to the post office and back. I have been home every time they claim to have attempted delivery. I live in a house with good driveway access and there is no excuse for this. Last week, when I went to pick up my undelivered package, they pointed out that the card said to come after 4pm (it was about 1pm). I replied that since they hadn't even attempted to deliver my parcel, it must be there. It was...
    The one time they did deliver a package was Christmas two years ago, when they threw a fragile Christmas gift over my fence and broke it in the process...

  14. Wow, it sounds like there are lots of people who've had this experience. You'd think this is something Australia Post could sort out.

    I sent this blog post to the ACCC and they included it in their list of submission papers on the Australia Post price rise: http://www.accc.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/923060 :)

  15. Hi Michael,

    I love your blog and work for Australia Post as a mail sorter in the morning before uni. Would you mind if I pass on your blog post to the relevant people?



  16. Can I please just tell you that I so appreciate all the words you've written because as a solopreneur in Sydney, it's a treasure trove. Frances

  17. This happens me all the time as well. We have a doorbell that functions perfectly well but we spend a lot of our time during the day at the back of the house, where we have a second bell installed so that we can hear when someone rings. Yet we constantly get cards, and to make it worse, they're not always for pickup our local post office - they are often for collection centres several suburbs away, as happened today. It's an absolute disgrace. Fortunately I am able-bodied and can use my own petrol and time to drive to the various collection centres, but for a lot of people it would be a significant cost, hardship and delay.

  18. Yes, same applies here. In the Camperdown NSW area and we now have the pleasure (!) of having to queue up at Annandale as the local PO closed.

    Not much has been done since July I take it.

    Time to start talking to our federal pollies I think. They want to give us the NBN which is fibre to the home, however we cant even get parcels to the home!

  19. Its an ongoing problem. So much so the Postal Industry Ombudsman researched it and produced "Australia Post - use of notification cards" (

    Then came the Australia Post "Safe Drop" service, which the Postal Industry Ombudsman researched and produced "Australia Post: 'Safe drop' program - a review of the first year" (http://www.pio.gov.au/docs/investigation-reports/AustPost-safe-drop_one-year-review.pdf)

  20. Tesselaar - thanks for linking to those reports. From what I've seen of the atrocious processes at our local post office Australia Post have clearly not actioned any of the issues outlined in those reports. :(

  21. I have the same problem.....I'm wheelchair bound and do a lot of online shopping and have everything delivered to my home address. They just leave that card saying to go after 4pm to my post office. Now, if I didn't have a disability I wouldn't mind so much, not much point having stuff delivered if I still need to leave the house to pick it up. I have to find someone on my behalf to pick them up, which is difficult because the post office close's at 6pm and people who work don't get home till after 6pm and leave before 9am. I've made a few complaints by phone to Australia Post, I received a letter stating that, "there are shortfalls and that it had been addressed and that they will avoid a reoccurrence in the future". I've had two deliveries since then and nothing has changed, I am at home 95% of time. When I made another complaint, they said it was because postal deliveries are contracted out and they are not obligated to leave it at the house. But on their website it states otherwise "We make every attempt to deliver your parcel personally and where requested, obtain a signature for the delivery. Sometimes when no one is at home to accept the parcel you may receive a card in your mail box letting you know you have an item for collection". http://auspost.com.au/personal/carded-parcels.html

    I've contacted the Postal Industry Ombudsman, they are looking into it. I think if everyone makes a complaint to the Ombudsmen and they might do something about it. So the CHALLANGE TO EVERYONE READING THIS, is to contact the Postal Industry Ombudsman. I've also read on other sites that the postie that you see delivering you letters is not the same postie that delivers your parcel's. It's a contracted van that goes straight to the post office with all the parcel's and the other postie leaves the card, that's why you have to go after 4pm cause the parcel's are not there yet if you go before 4pm. So here is the link http://www.pio.gov.au/making-a-complaint/ maybe people power can make they bring us the service we pay for...!

  22. Oh Australia Post - Why do you make my life so hard. I moved from UK to AUS had thriving ebay business in UK, spent loads of time, money and resources on Ebay AUS as well as separate eCommerce website. In every case postal TIMES and COSTS kill it.

    I can send a larger bulky heavy items for $4.75 and or smaller light weight items for... $4.75.

    East to West 5 - 10 working days. Crazy! Australia has more planes, trucks and traffic than it did 15 years ago, where the hell does it go? Especially when international items from China, UK, US Europe take the same time.

    I have come to the conclusion that no eCommerce business can survive in Australia when then need to us the services of Australia Post. I have over $15k worth of stock that I might as well just throw in the bin!

    The irony is that Ebay are promoting the PESA conference for eCommerce and Ebay sellers and guess who is the Major"GOLD" sponsor. Yeah thats right AUSTRALIA POST! Talk about irony.

    I tempted to go to conference, just so I can heckle Australia Post when they get up to tell everyone how proud they are to sponsor the event.

  23. Wow... for me deliveries are great.

    The delivery guy always comes between 7:00am and 7:30am in the morning, knows that the doorbell in our block of flats works intermittently, so knocks on my window, waits for 3 or 4 minutes for a response (longer if I yell out I'm coming), is always chirpy and happy to help carry in larger packages...

    I always thought Aus Post was doing a great delivery job (despite their shipping policies and pricing sucking), but I guess I just got really lucky with the contactor here.

    From the sounds of it, i don't think I'll be moving any time soon.

  24. I too have a great Australia Post delivery guy,
    however he must be a new one.

    About six months ago all I ever got were the cards in my letterbox even when I was home on my days off with front door open (screen door locked) and music on (clearly indicating someone was at home). That used to happen at my old address too, except there we regularly had to contact the post office to even find our regular mail (like bills).

    Can't believe how much of a difference this new person has made. Used to hate spending lunch hours lined up at the post office.

  25. Mick
    Michael i can relate to your aus post incidences it just seem to be a culture that exist at all level's within.... P R skills non existent ?
    problem solving much the same if they had any direct competion they would be listed on the R.I.P. archives !